Brendan’s

42 W 35th St. New York, NY 10001(212) 564-5405brendansbar.com

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Normally I would’ve never given this place a second glance, but apparently fate had other plans in store for me, as my intended destination, a somewhat hidden sushi joint across the street named Mew, sprung a leak due to a ruptured pipe. So, we quickly searched for an alternate route, and there, located in the Gregorian Hotel was this seemingly run-of-the-mill bar and grill. But run-of-the-mill it ain’t, because the moment you enter you realize you’re not in Kansas anymore. And by Kansas I mean Herald Square.

Behold, the diamond in the rough! Aladdin, eat your heart out. From it’s grand bar at the entrance to its vaulted ceilings, crown moldings, stained glass and elegant chandeliers, you feel like you’re in an embassy as opposed to an eatery. In fact, even the clientele up the vibe, with most of them donning suits for their power lunch attire.

In terms of the menu, I did the unthinkable and ordered a pasta. A spicy lemon penne topped with shrimp, broccoli rabe and a healthy dose of parmesan. Now normally at a bar & grill I would be like you and go with something safer, like a burger or fish and chips, but the setting somehow lulled me into thinking that perhaps this B&G was different than all the rest and so I crawled out on that limb with the best of intentions and sure enough, my bet paid off. Not that it was incredible by any stretch of the imagination, but it was shockingly good in light of expectations.

So take this review for what it is, a rather minute sampling. But I full well intend on returning, because there’s a shepherds pie with my name on it. So check back, because I will adjust the review should my first impression be too low or too high accordingly.

3 teeth

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Grit & Grace

535 Liberty Ave. Pittsburgh, PA 15222 • (412) 281-4748gritandgracepgh.com

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This was the best meal I had in Pittsburgh, not that my time there has been of any impressive duration that you should ever misconstrue my minute sampling as extensive. But in those four short days I managed to pack in a few highs and lows, with Grit and Grace taking pole position.

The winning performance of which I speak takes place in a narrow, subway car-shaped dining room decorated with a minimal contemporary touches so as not to distract you from the small plate army about to descend on your table. From dim sum to sandwiches and then sum, Grit & Grace fills your plate with anything goes. But that’s what makes this place a blast, especially for larger parties so you get to try a little of everything. And per the list below, you will soon see, I truly mean everything.

So, listing them in hierarchical fashion, here we go…

The Brisket Sandwich: It’s all you could ever hope for in a sandwich. Moist. Beefy. Contrasting textures and brightness from the kohlrabi slaw and pickled red onions. A little kick from the horseradish cream and thousand island sabayon. All on a wonderfully fresh baguette that would make any Frenchy proud.

The Mortadella Bun: No. Not a sandwich. A bun. As in dim sum. As in get some. Because this is definitely the best Mortadella sand- er, “bun” I’ve ever had. Loaded with the additions of chicken thigh meat, kimchi and bread & butter pickles, then sauced with coriander mustard and chili aioli. It’s definitely not your usual suspect, but hot damn does the road less travelled taste good!

Pot du crème: I’m normally not a huge fan of the Pot, but then again, I had never eaten at Grit & Grace before. And now I’m a changed man. Probably an Ultimate in the category since the competition is all but non-existent in my eyes. And note to Crème brulée, eat your crème out, ‘cause you’ve got nothing on this.

Lettuce Wraps: Okay, not exactly the sexiest of names, nor is it much of a looker to be honest, but look deeper… and open wide, because the duck confit piled on top of these leaves is loaded with flavor, along with even more kohlrabi (of the fermented persuasion), peanuts and cilantro.

Pork belly bites: Anything that starts with the words “pork belly” is already halfway to the promised land by default. Which can be both a blessing and a curse, because it’s that much harder to stand out in land where the bar is pre-set to high. Nonetheless, these “bites” had a favorable showing, glazed with orange, chili, garlic and a nice kiss of ginger.

Roasted octopus and mussels: This was the most conflicted dish of the night, being both good and bad at the same time. The octopus itself being the good, done nice and tender, as are the potatoes, which soak up the lemongrass broth like a champ. On the flip side, the mussels are the Bad. Tiny and overcooked, tasting like shriveled up wads of mollusk.

Carrot salad: In the midst of such culinary wizardry, it’s a bit hard for salads to make a lasting impression, but I do have to say that this one has a nice Asian kick to it.

Tomato salad: Conversely to the Carrot Salad, this one takes a decidedly Mexican approach to its flavors, which, while good, didn’t fare quite as well with the overall theme of cuisine.

Kimchi: It’s fine, but to present it as its own dish is a bit remiss. It’s a gloried condiment to be fair and that’s all you should use it for, to add some nice kick to the other dishes you find lacking.

Meatballs: I’m not sure if these were the ones normally served with ramen, but perhaps they should’ve been, because by themselves they were a tad underwhelming.

Pastrami sandwich: I wanted to love this one so much more than I did, but compared to the Mortadella bun or the Brisket Sandwich it’s an ugly stepsister. But not for a lack of trying, with accouterments like broccoli rabe, roasted garlic aioli and provolone cheese whiz you’d think it was Philly’s second coming. Sadly though, it’s just a false alarm.

Short ribs: Like the pork belly, this is another one of those dishes that usually has me at “hello.” And when you place it on a biscuit smothered with friggin’ béchamel, you’re definitely going for broke. But that’s what happened. It broke. They pushed this little dish so far, it overshot decadent and landed right splat on the face of “I wish I hadn’t done this.”

Soba noodles with crab: Remember that kimchi I mentioned? Save it for this dish. It’s crazy bland and in dire need of some kimchi lovin’, which is the worst name ever for a Korean porno.

Peach cake: Speaking of worsts, this was the most unfortunate of recommendations from our server and easily the lowest point of the meal. Dry, bland and unworthy of the term “dessert,” bringing no joy and only caloric guilt in its wake.

Other than that final transgression, the service really was excellent and the wine choices by the glass, while minimal, were fantastic. I had one white and one red and both were much better than your average bear.

So now that you’re done reading my novel about Grit & Grace (I told you we tried everything) you can certainly see that there are some land mines to be avoided. But with so many highs and two Ultimates, I find it hard to dole out anything lower than a quad.

4 teeth

Untamed Sandwiches

43 W 39th St. New York, NY 10018(646) 669-9397 untamedsandwiches.com

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Move over No.7 Sub, there’s a new game in town, just 10 blocks North, packing some serious skill between two slices of bread. But like No. 7, the ingredients list reads like a basket in an episode of Chopped, sourcing and mixing with reckless abandon. This place is undoubtedly destined for franchise greatness, so get in on the ground floor before it goes wide.

The bread alone is simply magnificent, a mini rustic Italian hero with great crunch on the outside, and just the right amount of air on the inside so as not to overpower the mastery of the innards.

As for the masterful innards of which I speak, let’s begin with the most masterful of them all, the Sheemakers Bounty, made with charred broccoli, fried almond butter, pickled raisin jelly and cress. Yes, a surprise vegetarian underdog takes the pole position. But don’t be thrown by the notion of broccoli in sandwich form, because the only thing crazy about it is how crazy good it is.

A close second for me would be the Nettle Neck. Once again, a road less travelled, like the Sheemaker, but I assure you these are the shiznit, contrary to the popular vote. The Nettle is made with braised lamb neck, walnut nettle pesto, gruyere and both pickled and charred onions. The tenderness of the neck meat assimilates with the other ingredients on the sandwich so well, it’s like utopia on a hoagie.

After that I’d go with The Butt (insert joke here), garnering its name from the headliner ingredient, cider braised pork butt. The pork is then accompanied by broccoli rabe, pepper jelly, sharp cheddar and Dijon. And while the thought of sinking your teeth into the backside of Wilber might be off-putting to some, for me it was kickass. No ifs ands or butts. Sorry… I had to.

In fourth, the Carla Bruni was almost as delicious as its namesake is beautiful. Loaded up with Ciambotta style (Southern Italian stew) braised vegetables, goat cheese, olive spread and basil. Again, a solid showing from the vegetable contingent, but compared to the Sheemaker, the Carla Bruni is more like Carla Hall.

After that, the sandwiches become a little more mortal, but not just because they are more mainstream and not for a lack of trying. For example, the General Zapata offers nice heat from its pickled jalapenos, but the chicken tinga, queso fresco, pickled onions, etc… all blend a little too much into the bread, making for an unimpressive takeaway. But even less impressive was the highly touted Hot Goldie, after all, we’re talkin’ short ribs here, backed by a sweet and sour cabbage saw and black pepper aioli. But pound for pound, it is the least flavorful sandwich of the lot.

And while the sandwiches are definitely more hit than miss, sadly I can’t say the same about the sides. Skip every last one of them. The jalapeno cheddar grits were neither spicy nor cheesy. The “spicy” broccoli rabe was also suffering from absent heat. The collards with bacon were bitter and bland. And the roasted carrots, while easily the best of the bunch, were nothing more than you might expect to find at a Dig Inn.

Yet with all of the transgressions on the sides, if I hold them to their true intent, to make sandwiches that think outside of the bun, the box is hella checked. After all, their name isn’t Untamed Sides. That said, someone really does need to crack a whip on whoever was making them, because they cost this place five knives.

4 teeth

Shorty’s

66 Madison Ave. New York, NY 10016(212) 725-3900shortysnyc.com

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I’ve never spent any quality time in Philly, but I have had my share of brief visits to the City of Brotherly Love, and I have to say, those cheesesteaks have nothing on Shorty’s. Especially when you’ve got sharp provolone in your wheelhouse. Not to mention broccoli rabe. Yes, I like mine fancy. But I also can appreciate the purest whiz. And both are VERY on point.

Additionally, there are a host of great beers, in bottles, cans and draft. As well as some awesome fries and onion rings, just the way I like them- crunchy on the outside, tender inside.

Also, the place is perfect for a sports outing with a TV on practically every surface but your chair.

And last but not least, the lunch special – cheesesteak & a draft beer for 12 bucks, I mean faggetaboutit!

4 teeth

 

Gato

324 Lafayette St. New York, NY 10012(212) 334-6400gatonyc.com

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Being that he is a millionaire several times over, it’s not like Bobby Flay needs my approval, but after Mesa Grill closed down in New York and Bar Americain should’ve never opened, I thought he lost it. Spread too thin between Throwdown, Iron Chef and Beat Bobby Flay. Well, apparently he found it again. In spades. Gato is purrrfect!

The décor walks that line between cool and casual, inviting and elegant, topped with great energy and phenomenal service. Not a morsel of attitude from host, to bartender to waiter. And very spot on with the recommendations, lining up three Ultimates and not a single miss amongst six plates and two drinks.

So let’s kick it off with the booze and an interesting wintery twist on sangria. Called Sangree, it’s made with Gamay, which is a black wine grape similar to Beaujolais, rye, orgeat (orangeflower water) and nutmeg. The other was a simple ole glass of red, but it was excellent. Ya gotta love it when the by-the-glass selections aren’t a consolation prize.

And while we’re on the subject of love, the roasted octopus with bacon, oregano and tangerine vinaigrette was so delicious I wanted to curl up in its tentacles and declare myself its bitch. But, the scrambled eggs with almond romesco, boucheron cheese and tomato confit toast were equally deft at sweeping me off my feet. So, suffice it to say that things began with an Ultimate love triangle.

Fortunately for me though, things started to taper off a hair from Ultimates-ville, otherwise my head might’ve exploded from bliss overload, like the guy in the movie Scanners. So on the merely fantastic side was the charred beef with blue cheese and broccoli rabe followed by the paella, which was very different from most, due to the absence of seafood, chicken or sausage. But even though it was entirely void of the usual suspects, this vegetarian version still managed to please. Especially as a nice complement next to the charred beef.

Perhaps the greatest reco of the night came next, the walnut brown butter cake, something I would’ve never ordered otherwise, especially with things like the tart tatin in contention (pictured). But I’m so glad I listened (for once), because head-to-head, the walnut easily reigned supreme and would be an ultimate if it weren’t for the fact that I don’t think I’ve ever had a walnut cake before, so it seems a bit unfair to crown it from a sampling of one. So TBD on that for now. What isn’t yet to be determined, however, is that Gato is the cat’s meow.

5 teeth

Westchester Burger Co.

106 Westchester Ave. White Plains, NY 10601 •  (914) 358-9398westchesterburger.com
353 N Bedford Rd. Mount Kisco, NY 10549 •  (914) 218-3200

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Please don’t take these three knives lightly. I mean these guys custom season every burger to match its accoutrements. And as a result, there are burgers on the menu that easily make their way into the four knife realm. The problem, is that there are a lot of two knife burgers as well. And the sweet potato fries that everybody raves about are just “eh.” If you really want sweet potato fries to rock your world, go to Blue Smoke in Manhattan. Also, the shakes, while good, get by more on the guilty add-ins as opposed to the ice cream base.

But back to some of those four knife burgers… Numero uno would be the Napa Burger- WOW! Almost every time I don’t get this, I regret it. Fortunately it’s too big for my wife to finish, so I usually get a few bites anyways. So what makes this burger so good it guaranteed a return visit all on its own? Well, first, they marinate the patty in a Zinfandel sauce and top it with goat cheese and watercress- all aboard a sweet brioche bun. It’s somethin’ special.

Another high would be the Ba Da Bing, made with spicy Italian sausage, as opposed to ground beef, broccoli rabe, provolone, balsamic glaze all atop a focaccia bun. It’s quite inventive and quite good.

And coming in third for me would be the lamb burger served with squash and zucchini, a yogurt sauce and once again, focaccia. They can go a little crazy with the sauce on this one, so I’d recommend asking them to go light or to put it on the side.

In the middle of the road would be their namesake, the TWC – their classic with a twist, or as I like to call it, a high end Whopper. Good, but nothing I would ever order again.

Same goes for the Graziella, The Balboa and The Firehouse. Just nothing about any of them makes a big enough impression to make it worth ordering again. Especially the Firehouse. I mean with a name like that, you’re expecting some heat. C’mon, break out the habaneros or jalapenos or chili peppers- hell, break out something other than just chili.

Service was friendly and fast and they are always great with the kids. Decor is nothing THAT special, however. Not sure why so many people rave about how cool it is. Guess they don’t spend much time in the city… or at Chipotle. It’s not bad, don’t get me wrong, but it’s pretty normal by my standards. Like a Chipotle.

3 teeth